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The Association of Small Bombs Discussion Guide: Home

Karan Mahajan

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Discussion Questions

(From the litlovers.)

1. It seems easy at times for those of us who live in western societies to ignore or, worse, seem not to care about bombings that occur in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. But The Association of Small Bombs insists that we must care. Has reading the novel changed the way you view distant events?

2. A great deal of thought has gone into what inspires terrorists. In both Shockie and Malik, and later Ayub, the author attempts to present bomb makers/terrorists who readers may find sympathetic. Do you? Does the book provide insights into a terrorist's psyche or  motivations? Are terrorists monsters or sociopathic killers? 

3. Talk about the different phases and shapes of grief that Mansoor and the Khuranas experience as they attempt to cope with the loss of Tushar and Nakul. Why, for instance, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, does Mansoor walk away from the bodies of his friends? Consider Vikas' obsession to film Delhi markets, his need perhaps to "hide" behind his camera.

4. Follow-up to Question 3: How, in particular, does the death of their children undermine the Khuranas' marriage? Were there visible rifts before the bombings?

5. In his grief, Vikas thinks to himself:

When things are good, you can think of no other way of living; when things are in ruins, there appear a million solutions for how this fate could have been avoided.

Is this a thought pattern common to most of us? Do we often reflect on how our troubles might have been prevented, how we might have done things differently; by the same token, how typical is it to accept, without questioning, our good fortune?

6. Talk about Ayub and his influence over Mansoor? Describe how he helps Mansoor heal, both physically (using visualization and holistic techniques) and spiritually (turning to prayer). What about the young men's faith?—Ayub's belief, for instance, that "prayer keeps keeps you focused on the eternal present." Would you consider Aybu and Mansoor's faith radical Islam...or is it more nuanced?

7. Six years later, when he learns he is permanently impaired, Mansoor feels rage toward Vikas and Deepra Khurana. "Why," he wonders, "had they been so irresponsible—with him in particular?" He recalls that Uncle Vikas had "perversely cajoled him into going with Tushar and Nakul to the market" (p. 162). Is he right to blame the Khuranas for what happened? Should the adults have been more cautious?

8. The Association of Small Bombs makes comparisons between the life of the West with its emphasis on individualism and materialism and the traditional Indian values. Some of the evidence is persuasive. On the other hand, we are also shown an India beset with an responsive political system, a corrupt justice system, sectarian violence, and dire poverty. Is there justification for either view point?

8. Discuss the underlying motivations of the terrorists in the novel. In The Association of Small Bombs, they don't seem to murder in the name of Allah; instead, they seem more politically motivated. What are the issues?

9. One of the major questions posed by the book is this: how can people force governments to address their grievances? After the failure of the protest organized by Ayub and Tara, Ayub wonders whether peaceful protest has any affect: "What would Gandhi do if he were alive today? Would the press even notice him?" Ayub, once a staunch believer in nonviolence, comes to believe that violent, not peaceful, methods bring change. Later, however, at the end of the book, he thinks of a bomb as a "child. A tantrum directed at all things." What do you think?

10. Think about the title: what is its significance? What are the various meanings of "small bombs"? Consider the line that Vikas says toward the end of the book, after he and Deepra form their Association: "The deadliness of an attack should not be measured by its size."

11. Does The Association of Small Bombs offer any path for hope?

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